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US Tennis Pros Inspire Kids to Read


The men's (ATP) tennis tour is in Washington this week for the Legg Mason Tennis Classic. As part of its outreach, the Washington Tennis and Education Foundation organized a "Celebrity Reading Room" event Monday with some star players who are participating in the tournament.

About 50 elementary school students had the opportunity to gather in a big courtside tent to share interactive story-time with three top American tennis players, world No. 5 James Blake, No. 10 Andy Roddick and local star Paul Goldstein, who is ranked 76th.

The featured book was Let the Games Begin, which invites young athletes to play hard and dream big as they discover how teamwork and sportsmanship create true champions, as well as meeting life's challenges.

Roddick read to the children this passage from the book. "Reach for your dreams by setting goals. Choosing the right goals, ones that aren't too easy or too hard, helps you get to that next level," he said.

Roddick told the children that his goal growing up was to be a good enough tennis player and student to earn a college scholarship. But when he became so good at the game he decided to turn professional.

James Blake, the 2002 Legg Mason tournament champion, read a passage to the children that referred to tennis.

"Mastering a sport takes hard work, and most of all practice. Even the greatest athletes practice for hours every day. Tennis players hit forehands and backhands over and over again," he said.

Blake, who has participated in activities like this at other tournaments, told VOA Sports it is special.

"It's something fun that really means more than just the tournament, more than just playing tennis. It's totally making a difference in these kids' lives. It's something that's really my inspiration and my reason for playing is to possibly give me a bigger voice to talk to kids like this," he said.

Blake added that reading was stressed at his home when he grew up.

"As a kid, I was somewhat forced to read, and I loved it luckily, and it was something that my parents stressed even more than tennis was reading. And I want to make sure that kids get the same reward out of it that I did. It opened a lot of doors for me. It gave me a chance to go to a school [university] like Harvard and I now I end up being where I am," he said.

James Blake is now the top American male tennis player, ranked fifth in the world after defeating Andy Roddick recently to the win the ATP tournament in Indianapolis.

This week Blake is hoping to win the Legg Mason Classic for the second time in his career. Roddick is aiming for a third title here.

Roddick, who had hoped to try for a third title here, dropped out Monday night because of an injury.